Ava DuVernay's Prison Doc to Open New York Film Festival

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Ava DuVernay

'The 13th' will then debut on Netflix and open in a limited theatrical run Oct. 7.

Ava DuVernay's film The 13th is set to open the New York Film Festival.

The Selma director's new documentary examines the horrors of mass incarceration and the prison industry in the U.S., as well as how the U.S. has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African American. It traces a pattern of fear and division behind mass criminalization, from D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the rebirth of the KKK to the Civil Rights Movement, the 1994 Crime Bill, the rise of ALEC and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Its title refers to the Constitution's 13th Amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States...."

After its world premiere at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, the title will then debut on Netflix and open in a limited theatrical run Oct. 7.

"It is a true honor for me and my collaborators to premiere The 13th as the opening night selection of the New York Film Festival,” said DuVernay in a statement. “This film was made as an answer to my own questions about how and why we have become the most incarcerated nation in the world, how and why we regard some of our citizens as innately criminal, and how and why good people allow this injustice to happen generation after generation."

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's announcement Tuesday marks the first time the festival will open with a nonfiction work. "While I was watching The 13th, the distinction between documentary and fiction gave way and I felt like I was experiencing something so rare: direct contact between the artist and right now, this very moment," said Kent Jones, New York Film Festival director and selection committee chair. "In fact, Ava is actually trying to redefine the terms on which we discuss where we’re at, how we got here, and where we’re going. The 13th is a great film. It’s also an act of true patriotism.”

The 54th annual New York Film Festival runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 16.

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